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Finding a Balance: Sustaining Happiness & How to Avoid Running Burnout

If you’re a keen runner or ultrarunner, you have probably at some point realized that you’re overdoing it, and you ought to back off to avoid running burnout. Humanity has long been on a trajectory of continuous improvement, striving to break records, achieve more, and get the well deserved recognition for it. The birth of Social Media has brought light to these amazing achievements, in a way that allows us all to feel connected to the athletes themselves who are achieving them.

This seemingly close connection that we feel toward the people that we follow, can sometimes lead us to believe that we should be doing the same or at least ‘doing more’. This can be an awesome motivator for many, but after time it can also be detrimental as we strive to beat yesterday, day after day.

A trajectory like this is not a sustainable path, so at some point it’s important to stop, and have a big think about what it is that you TRULY enjoy doing or what it is you really want to achieve for yourself (not others), and put more of your energy towards being happy with what you have the sustainable enjoyment of those things.

We are all different, both physically and mentally, and although I believe we were all born with the ability to run, it’s important to remember that people do things for different reasons. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing then there is absolutely no way in which it is sustainable. Soon enough your negative feelings toward the things that you’re not enjoying will take their toll on your mental health and you’ll become inevitably become unhappy.

It’s no secret that the mind and body are connected, and so a compromised mental state WILL eventually have an effect on your ability to maintain good physical health and perform to the highest of your ability while running or during any physical activity for that matter.

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One relevant example is the ultrarunning scene right now. I have read multiple posts from ultrarunners stating that they are no longer getting enjoyment from running ultra distances, saying that they aren’t running from any personal demons and don’t feel they need to experience the extreme lows (sometimes very painful both physically and mentally) of 100-mile races. They, of course, enjoyed ultra running at one point, and maybe they will again someday but they don’t currently hold joy for this extreme endurance running. I’m sure many of these athletes felt pressure to run longer distances than they were comfortable with as their competitors took them on.

As with so many walks of life, time holds no secrets and eventually, people tend to feel the invisible pressures from certain aspects of life and end up realizing what they truly love to do. Do more of those things, and do plenty of YOU!

So how is it possible to ensure that we can sustainably do the things we love without getting bored or resentful about them? The answer is simple:

create BALANCE in your day to day activities and on a seasonal basis TOO. a short and long-term balanced lifestyle will allow your energy to come and go in waves, without risking burnout!

If you think of a year in your life as 4 quarters, where each season is one quarter then a broader understanding of how to balance life becomes easier to grasp. Use the seasons as a facilitator for ramping up and winding down your efforts in a cyclical manner. This is a great way to force the balancing of your mind and body’s energy levels each year. Really slowing down and taking time to appreciate the seasons rolling in and fading away will awaken a natural-happiness deep within you. So what I’m saying here is embrace the changes around you and try focusing more of your time toward another sport for a season.

Many elite trail runners will opt for skis during the winter months and some will stop running altogether (Kilian Jornet for example). Kilian says that doing this allows his running muscles to recover while he builds strength in other areas. He also attributes some runners’ burnout to them running ALL the time and effectively having too many miles in their legs to sustainably go on.

Like any engine, your brain needs to be fired up (stimulated) regularly in order to maintain good health. Partake in multiple activities to activate different areas of your brain and muscles to avoid burnout both mentally and physically. Nature and the changing seasons will help with this in the longer term and on a much grander scale. Nature is one of the biggest healers! Ask any trail runner or hiker why it is they do what they do, and almost every one of them will tell you it’s because of the way being in nature makes them feel. The world is becoming more and more intense and hiking or trail running has become an easy escape/healer for so many of us, for good reason, IT WORKS!

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How do I mix up my day to day activities?

Hiking while I’m recovering from a trail race or don’t feel like running.

I’m not an elite athlete, which means I have the pleasure of not being required to train if I really don’t feel like it. I’m lucky to be able to run when I want to and also to say “not today” if my legs feel too tired. On a rest day, if I want to get outside and move, then often instead of running I put on my hiking boots and go for a walk instead. Slowing down the pace, reducing the impact on my legs while maintaining “time-on-feet” is a very effective way of maintaining your base miles, even when not running.

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Hiking is also a really good activity while you are recovering from a trail race. I recently returned from Europe where I ran the Matterhorn Ultraks 30k race and then the UTMB OCC 56k just 5 days later. This was a pretty huge effort for me, especially the OCC, in which I was running for over 10 hours.

If you love the familiarity of trail running but want a less intense way to mix up your activities, hiking is my top suggestion. I’m loving my Merrell Ontario Mid Waterproof because of their traditional look, high-quality build, waterproof protection, and super comfortable feel while hiking.

I also appreciate how similar Merrell’s mission is to our own here at Trail & Kale, which is to encourage everyone to get outside and find their genuine connection to nature. stock a huge selection of timeless Merrell outdoors footwear for you to try for your next hike and with their 365-day return policy and excellent customer service. there’s really no risk in buying a pair to try for yourself. Sizing of the Merrell Ontario Mid Waterproof shoes is consistent with most other brands so there’s no need to size up or down.

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Don’t sacrifice on sleep

It can be tempting to run all the time but that can consume a large portion of the finite amount of time you have available to be outside exploring beautiful places in different ways. It’s true you can just wake up earlier, and buy back more time during the day but if you do this, make sure you go to bed earlier as a lack of quality sleep can cause other health issues. That’s a whole other post though! While you sleep your brain recharges and heals itself, so sleep should be a big part of your balanced lifestyle.

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Enjoy being in nature, whether you’re hiking, running, taking photos or sleeping.

I find that nature calms my soul, but it also inspires much of my creativity. I love the quiet of being in the great outdoors and how nothing else matters while I’m there. If you haven’t had a chance to experience it much for yourself then I encourage you to find a local trail and feel the benefits of nature for yourself. You’ll get hooked, I promise!

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Enjoy more time with your family and pets

If you follow the Trail & Kale Instagram Feed then you may have seen that we recently brought home a puppy named Kepler. He’s on Instagram too: His account is @trailandkepler if you would like to follow his development into a trail and adventure dog. He’s already a huge part of our lives and we are committed to dedicating lots of time to him, to ensure that he grows up happy and has the opportunity to come with us on many of our adventures.

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Kepler’s cute little BOOP face should help you feel calm and happy too! 🙂 TAP TO BOOP MY NOSE and visit my Instagram page.

Balance in life and as a runner is key

So there we have it. I’m not always running 🙂 Taking the time to slow down, appreciate the change in seasons, spend time with loved ones and get some quality nights rest are all ways in which I strive to achieve and maintain balance and avoid running burnout.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and that it motivates you to think about seeking your own personal balance in life. Got some tips on how you manage to keep a balanced lifestyle? Share them in the comments below.

As the founder of Trail & Kale, and seasoned marathoner & ultrarunner, Alastair loves bringing our readers independent running shoe reviews and gear insights to help you run your best. Learn more about Trail & Kale here.


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If you're a keen runner or ultrarunner, you have probably at some point realized that you're overdoing it, and you ought to back off to avoid running burnout. Humanity has long been on a trajectory of continuous improvement, striving to break records, achieve more,...Finding a Balance: Sustaining Happiness & How to Avoid Running Burnout